Wednesday, July 26, 2017

I feel like I'm not out of bed yet

Good morning!

So this is the first post in what I hope will be an ongoing series that I can post randomly on my blog about unsung heroes.

Basically, I want to point out side characters, background characters, cameos, and other random people and things in movies that (I think) make the movie that much better.

My first post on the topic will be dedicated to the inspiration of it:

The shipyard singer from On the Town (1949). You know the one: "I feel like I'm not out of bed yet..." The character was performed by Bern Hoffman. He's actually been a good number of films but none that I've seen with a singing role. Which is too bad, because he has this incredible voice that is rich and gorgeous.

The lyrics he's singing are totally relatable: "oh the sun is warm but my blanket's warmer." Yep. I hear you, man.

Bonus points awarded because my sisters and I used to quote this bit pretty frequently and I still think of it pretty much every time I get up and the morning and am not ready to be up yet.

Sadly I can't find a clip from the movie. Anyone else have any favorite random roles from movies? If you can't think of any, don't worry. I really am hoping to have these sorts of posts once or twice a month. We can discuss.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Tailor-made for two

So, I've been making little notes and ideas for blogging for months now. I was really excited about the prospect of getting back into it but kept thinking, "this will be an eventual thing" and "I want everything lined up and ready to go before I get start." There are still some post ideas that I'm saving for when they're ready... although as I write this, I'm thinking, "meh. I could do sneak peeks. Even I post about projects that I never finish, that's ok, right? We're all human." It might actually be even more encouraging to write posts about projects in the works, regardless of whether or not I finish them - I may discover that there are a lot of people just like me - with tons of unfinished projects on their desks. I find unfinished projects both exciting and discouraging. On the one hand, all of the possibilities! On the other hand, why can't I just finish?? So, you may see some in-the-works posts coming up. I'll ruminate and get back to you.

Anyway, as I was saying, I've been postulating over getting back int the blogosphere for a while now. But, what finally tipped me over the edge to say, "you know what? I'm just going to start!" was rewatching La La Land (2016).

I've heard a lot of mixed reviews of La La Land. Most people I talked to loved it. Several people hated it. This isn't actually going to be a full-fledged review of the movie, for several reasons...

  1. I'm not entirely sure how I feel about it yet - I go back and forth on this movie, to be honest with you. There are times when I love it and times when I think it's trying too hard. But writing a review feels like I'm committing to one feeling over the other and I'm just not ready for that yet...
  2. It's still pretty new and I'd like to avoid spoilers
  3. I haven't decided if I'm going to actually do reviews yet. On the one hand, I feel like I'd give honest reviews of movies; on the other hand, I really hate when people say negative things about movies that I love and I'd really hate to upset someone by writing a less than glowing review of a favorite movie. I've tiptoed around that for years. I haven't made up my mind if I want to continue tiptoeing or if I'm going to test the waters of review...
What I'd like to do today is discuss one very specific moment in the movie and talk about classic movies that also use this styling and maybe throw in some compare/contrast.

Ah! I love blogging now! I can use gifs! It's so magical!

I will not pretend that I am the first person to discuss this scene but that doesn't mean I can't be the next person to do so. This was a pretty memorable part of the Epilogue sequence. It was featured in the trailers and it was beautifully filmed. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are outfitted in simple black and white outfits against a black backdrop with stars that reflected in the shiny floor - it looked like something right out of a classic movie. Well, after all, it was...

In Broadway Melody of 1940 (1940), Fred Astaire and Eleanor Powell famously danced to Cole Porter's "Begin the Beguine" in front of what is basically the same minimalistic but nonetheless magical background. As Frank Sinatra famously quipped in That's Entertainment (1974), "you know, you can wait around and hope but, I'll tell ya, you'll never see the likes of this again" (Okay, actually, he quipped that when talking about this scene, which is very similar but does not have the same romantic vibe as the one I'm going to discuss). Fred Astaire and Eleanor Powell were both unarguably masters of tap-dance. This wasn't amateur hour - this was a unique pairing of two of the greatest dancers of the day. This dance, in particular, in context of the movie, is basically the first time the two characters dance on equal footing. They dance together at other points throughout, but usually Fred Astaire's character is an ambitious hoofer, admiring the starlet Eleanor Powell portrays - or he is pretending to be someone else. In this scene, they are completely themselves and can be unapologetically perfect. I love this dance. Admittedly, it isn't my favorite Fred Astaire duet, but it's high up there. I love the simple elegance of the set up. I love that this is a true incarnation of Fred Astaire's famous quote, "either the camera will dance, or I will." There are no admiring audience members in the shot and very few views of the band in the background to distract the viewers from simply admiring the two dancers at the center of the screen. It was a beautiful sequence. I can't really blame the filmmakers of La La Land for emulating it.

But they weren't the first ones to do so. In 1952, MGM released Lovely to Look At, a remake of RKO's Roberta (1935). It's a cute musical, but there are parts of it I don't love - Red Skelton's slapstick, for one thing, and, for another, Howard Keel's portrayal of a character that is so unlikeable that I wonder why the girl is supposed to fall in love with him (yes, yes, he was extremely handsome and had a beautiful voice but, really? Come on, Kathryn Grayson, you could have done better). However, I really love Marge and Gower Champion in this movie. They are, really, my favorite part of it. I love Gower Champion's choreography style. 

This movie was filmed in color so it is the most different of the three scenes I'm comparing here today. However, I think it is still worth mentioning. In one notable scene, the two characters dance in a little restaurant that fades away in a dusty blue backdrop filled with stars... sound a little familiar? 

The scene is beautiful and romantic and set to the gorgeous Jerome Kern tune, "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes." Though filmed in color, I think it is notable that Marge Gower's dress is a similar tone to the backdrop, giving the whole scene an understated feel - the musicals of the 1950's, particularly MGM's were not known for being understated, which makes this sequence really stand out to me. (Confession: this scene is actually my favorite of the three I'm comparing here today.)

I was really excited about La La Land before I even knew what the movie was about. The posters all looked amazing and, when the trailers came out, there was dancing and singing and - well, I was just thrilled to pieces. And when I finally went to go see it, I think a part of me was hoping that this film would usher in a new era of musicals. Maybe, once again, we could have some dance scenes to gush over, dresses to replicate, and songs to learn. But, when I watched the movie (and every time I rewatch it), I was... underwhelmed. We are not, sadly, looking at MGM in the 1950's. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are good in their roles - highly enjoyable - but they are no Fred Astaire and Eleanor Powell, nor are they a new Marge and Gower Champion.

And yet, there is something uniquely enjoyable about that. I watch "Begin the Beguine" and "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes" and I yearn for something so romantic and polished. I want to be in a pretty dress and a beautiful setting, with a handsome and able dancer lifting me and twirling me to something by Gershwin or Porter or Kern... I'm not ruling out the possibility, but I'm aware that this is unlikely to happen. La La Land gives me something a little more attainable. It's not perfect; but, let's be honest, I'm no Eleanor Powell or Marge Champion either. I can't reasonably imagine myself in either of their places. But I can imagine myself dancing in a more ballroom style with someone.

This is why I love and don't love La La Land. It reminds me that life isn't actually like the movies. But it gives me something a little more tangible. That low-hanging fruit is both encouraging and discouraging and it's something I have to reprocess every time I watch the movie.

Whew! I sure got loquacious for my first post back. They won't all be like this. I guess I was saving up! What are your thoughts on these sequences? On La La Land or any of the other movies mentioned in this post?


Sunday, July 9, 2017

Under Construction!

Exciting news! I miss blogging. Okay, well that's exciting to me because I've decided to get back into it. I keep watching movies and thinking of post ideas. My life is kind of crazy right now so I don't know if I'll be posting terribly often but I'm planning to post once a week (hopefully). If I can get back into the habit then there may be a few weekly posts. I'm not sure of a timeline yet but I do have some ideas that I'm very excited about!

I'm in something of an in-between stage in my life right now so I won't be able to get straight to the ideas I'm most excited about but I can tell you a little bit about them. You see, my life has changed in little, unexpected ways in the past few years. I've changed in unexpected ways in the past few years. I've discovered that I love cooking, I love crafting, I love baking, and I love experimenting with mixology. So, I'm planning to start integrating some of these new loves into my blog. In a few months, I'm hoping to have classic movie inspired DIYs and classic movie inspired recipes. These will be mixed in with some of my older posting styles of movie reviews, scene discussions, actor/actress spotlights, and lists (I think you all know how much I love lists). I'd love to get this back into a habit again in time to go back to my old Christmas tradition of 12 Days of Christmas Movies. I really loved seeing everyone's posts on those! I may repeat myself a bit. I don't want to clean out the archives but I'm going to basically be starting over - so you may notice me talking about a movie I wrote about 5 years ago. 

A lot has changed in the past few years so if you have any new classic movie blogs that I ought to check out - or if anyone is still faithfully blogging and I need to revisit - please send your recommendations my way!

Oh, and a quick note: unfortunately, one new thing I will be implementing is comment moderation. I've been getting a lot of spam comments which I've mostly been ignoring because my blog was so dusty but now that I'm getting back into it, I want to weed those out. 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

I would tot, tell you anything you want to know

So, I feel like I say "long time, no see!" more than I say anything else on this blog. Let's just skip the formalities this time, shall we? After all, we all know how terrible I've been in recent years at keeping this blog going. I haven't deleted it, however, because I still have this little wish that I'll be able to get the thing up and running again like it was a while back. It occurred to me that when I first started my blog, I ran it very informally. There were little to no scheduled posts, just random blurbs about movies. I'm going to try that again and see if I can get back into the swing of it again.

In the past month or so, I've been a lot better about exploring different movies and trying out new things. I'm not terribly good at that, as a rule, but I'm striving to be better. So, this month, I'll be doing little blurbs about the movies I'm watching, both ones I'm watching for the first time, and old favorites.

Now, on Sunday I returned home from a glorious time on the TCM Classic Cruise. It's the fourth time TCM has hosted a classic movie cruise and my third time embarking on it. I absolutely love those cruises. They're so much fun. I get to see wonderful movie stars in person, I get to watch classic movies on the big screen and with a full audience, I get to talk to fellow classic movie buffs, I get to dance to live jazz music, and I get to wear my favorite fancy clothes! Oh, we stop at a couple of ports too but I hardly notice that. I watched a good bundle of excellent movies on this recent cruise but the one I looked forward to the most was The Music Man (1962). As soon as I heard Shirley Jones was going to be a guest star, I immediately began to use all of my powers of wishing and happy thoughts toward them playing that movie on board. (I was also pulling for Kismet (1955) in honor of Ann Blyth, who was also on board, but that didn't happen. Still, one success is pretty good, right?)

Naturally, I've seen The Music Man before. It's one of my favorite movies. It's one of those musicals that even people who don't like musicals enjoy. It transcends genre. The story and the characters are so rich and wonderful. I love the morally grey Harold Hill and how you root for him from the beginning, despite (and possibly because of) all the flaws we've recently been told in "Rock Island."

The movie also has some great history to it, as most movies do. Shirley Jones was pregnant when she made this movie. I shudder to imagine her being rigged up in corsets. Yipes! It's nice to know that she and the baby were healthy despite it. On the cruise, Shirley Jones talked about Robert Preston and I was pleased to hear that she enjoyed working with him. Apparently, when Broadway stars are pulled to perform their stage character on screen, they often direct their new costars in how everything was done on stage. I can see the reasoning behind that but that must be obnoxious to work with. Well, apparently Robert Preston was not that kind of leading man and he let Shirley Jones play her character her own way and didn't try to interfere at all. Phew! It's so nice when the stars you like turn out to be likable people too. I believe this was the movie that Shirley Jones said Frank Sinatra was slated to star in as well. Apparently, it was this one and Carousel. Frank Sinatra was all set to sign the contract to play Harold Hill when Meredith Wilson stepped in and put a stop to it. I love Robert Preston so I can't imagine anyone else playing Harold Hill to the perfection he attains. Frank Sinatra would have been an interesting choice. I must admit that I'm kind of glad it didn't go through. In his roles in Can-Can, Pal Joey, and High Society, he plays conniving or manipulative men. Well, High Society it's more like a sardonic man. In any case, he plays worldly and world-weary characters and he always turns out kind of... I don't know... hard in that role. I tend to not like him that much. Now, Harold Hill is a character who seems hard but has actually buried a softness that comes out when he finds someone who loves him despite knowing what sort of a person he is. I don't know if Sinatra would have brought out that softness as easily as Preston did. I suppose we'll never know.

I don know that I'm not crazy about the remake. That probably goes without saying though. The old adage "they just don't make 'em like they used to" was bandied about quite a bit on this cruise, unsurprisingly. I'll discuss this topic more in my next post I think but I think it's interesting how speedily people dismiss all movies made after a certain point. Now, I'm the first to admit that I'm not crazy about most contemporary movies. The majority of my DVD collection dates prior to 1970. But that's not to say that I'd dismiss all movies made after that point simply out of prejudice to their release date. I would argue that the remake of The Music Man lacks the charm and the subtlety of the original. It tries too hard to be cute and exciting. The colors are clean and crisp but the town doesn't feel like a small town; it feels like a movie set. The dancing doesn't seem spontaneous. The leading man isn't half as charismatic. I don't empathize with the leading lady nearly as much as I do with the original. I feel like the remake was conscious that it wouldn't live up to the standards fans would hold the original up to and so it just tried to make up for it by exploding all over the screen. I don't know. Back to rambling, I suppose.

The last time I watched the movie was with my best friend, Katie. It's funny how you can watch a movie for years and years but you watch with someone different and they open up a whole new aspect to the movie you've never discovered. I watched it with Katie and she pointed out partway through the film that she loves how Harold really does want to be a conductor. Now, I have to admit that I was always a bit of an absent-minded kid so it's not entirely surprising that I missed this major part of his character. But, there you go, I did.

Watching the movie on the cruise, I watched it with new eyes, and I have to tell you that I kind of lost it. I was balling my heart out as I watched Harold accomplish what he was sure he never could. I also got pretty emotional over the Winthrop plot thread. Maybe it's because I watched the movie with my nieces and nephews in mind? Having developed close friendships with them I can now see how difficult it would be for a family dealing with loss and how much of a difference Harold made in Winthrop's life by giving him something to talk about. I don't know. Maybe I'm rambling at this point.

I will add, however, that it was awfully fun to see my favorite background dancer, Mr. Bert May, on the big screen! If any of you missed it, Bert May commented on the post I wrote about him (in truth, I kind of gushed), and it's something I'm ridiculously proud of. I may or may not have mentioned it a few times to a few people on the cruise... "You see that dancer there? He commented on my blog. No big deal..." I'd absolutely love to interview him. I'd love to know what it was like to work in Hollywood as a contract dancer. What were the stars like? Did he want to be the next Gene Kelly? Did he enjoy his time there? Oh, I could think of a bundle of questions to ask him. But, for now, I'll just share this scene and ask my dear readers if they'd like to play a game of "Where's Waldo?" I tried finding "76 Trombones" and "Marian the Libarian" but I can't find the dance portions on YouTube, so we'll make do with "Shipoopi" because he's in that one too!

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Miss Linda Seton, on New Year's Eve, entertained a small group of very unimportant people

Ok. Here we go. The last post for the New Year’s themed movies. There are, of course, more movies centered around New Year’s Eve, but we’re going to end with this one for now. Ready? Here we go…

Holiday (1938)
Directed by: George Cukor
Featuring: Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, Doris Nolan, Lew Ayres, Edward Everett Horton, Jean Dixon

Plot in a Nutshell:

Johnny Case (Grant) is a young man with a bright future ahead of him. He’s just gotten engaged to a lovely girl he just met, Julia Seton (Nolan) and he’s about to make a lot of money on a deal that will enable him to pursue his dream: quit his job and take a long holiday to travel and find out what life is really all about. Unfortunately, the only people who believe in his dream are his two friends, Professor and Mrs. Potter (Horton and Dixon) and Julia’s sister Linda (Hepburn) and brother Ned (Ayres). As Linda struggles to persuade her sister to believe in her fiancĂ©, she starts to realize that she has fallen in love with Johnny as well.


- Edward Everett Horton repeats the role of Nick Potter, which he also played in the previous version of the film, Holiday (1930). (IMDb)
- George Cukor considered Rita Hayworth for the role of Julia Seaton, given her dark hair and slight resemblance to Hepburn. However, she was judged too inexperienced and Doris Nolan took the part. (IMDb)
- In 1936, Columbia Pictures purchased a group of scripts, including the script for Holiday, from RKO for $80,000. Although the film was originally intended to reunite The Awful Truth co-stars Cary Grant and Irene Dunne, George Cukor decided to cast Hepburn instead, and Columbia borrowed her from RKO, where she had refused the lead role in Mother Carey's Chickens.[5] Joan Bennett and Ginger Rogers were also initially considered to play Hepburn's role. (Wikipedia)
- A scene that was to come before what is now the first scene of the film was set in the snows of Lake Placid, although it was shot in Bishop, California. The idea was to "open up" the stage play by utilizing an exterior scene, but when director George Cukor saw the scene, he did not like it, and decided to cut it. A few still photographs, one of them on a lobby card that was distributed to theaters, are the only known remnants of this scene. (Wikipedia)
The working titles for the film were "Unconventional Linda" and "Vacation Bound". (Wikipedia)

Thoughts on the film:

It took me years to watch this one. For some reason, the description of the plot on the box made me think it would be sad so I avoided it for a while. I’m so glad I finally watched it. I love this movie! It’s so wonderful! I love Johnny and Linda and the Potters. And Ned. I love Ned. He’s my favorite character in the movie. Obviously I like Johnny – who couldn’t? And of course I’m rooting for Linda all the way. And clearly I’m happy every time the Potters show up. But, Ned is my favorite. He’s the backbone of the family and he gets no credit for it. He’s the only person in the movie who really understands everyone around him. It’s sad that he has to drink to escape his misery, but I’m convinced that Linda and Johnny come back for him.

Favorite scenes/quotes:

The meeting of the 5th Avenue Anti-Stuffed Shirt and Acrobatics Club is definitely my favorite part of the movie. Although I like the very first scene with the Potters and Johnny and the scene where we first meet Linda, and then the scene where the Seton siblings all try to prepare Johnny for his introduction to their father. And then the last two scenes are really fantastic. Basically, the whole movie is wonderful.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

We'd make half of a lovely couple.

Here we go again! So far so good on this New Year’s resolution! And we’re continuing the fun with a fun romantic comedy that would never work in a contemporary setting:

Bachelor Mother (1939)
Director: Garson Kanin
Featuring: Ginger Rogers, David Niven, Charles Coburn

Plot in a nutshell:

When Polly Parrish saves a foundling child from rolling off the steps of an orphanage, her life is turned upside-down by all of the people who mistakenly believe her to be the child’s mother.


I could find nothing on this movie. The only thing I really know about it is that it was remade in the fifties with Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fischer as Bundle of Joy. Do you know of any cool trivia? Do tell!

Thoughts on the movie:

When I first saw this movie, I laughed so hard I cried. I showed it to my sister and she was not nearly as enthused as I’d hoped. The unfortunate chauvinism bothered her tremendously. To be honest, that is a frustrating aspect of the film. No one believes Polly when she insists she is not the mother. While I found the confusion funny, it was not terribly funny how poorly Polly was treated because of the mix-up. All of the men in the movie are incredibly rude to her because they think she is an irresponsible mother. The movie ends very well, though. And I think that David Niven’s character gets a good dose of his own medicine so it turns out all right in the end (I think). And Polly comes to love the baby very much so I think it’s ok… even if in a round-about way.

Favorite scenes:

 I love the NYE scene when Polly and David are at a party. It’s so funny! I love the chemistry between Ginger Rogers and David Niven. I wish they’d done more films together. There are several really cute scenes in the movie, really. Again, I really liked it, despite the chauvinism. 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

All right, I'll remember: must scold, must nag, mustn't be too pretty in the mornings.

from Doctor Macro

This week, we take a look at a murder mystery centered around New Year’s Eve. Nick and Nora are at it again in the first sequel to the popular The Thin Man. This was to be the first sequel of five, all based on the main characters in Dashiell Hammett’s gritty detective story, but not based on any actual plots by Hammett. After the success of The Thin Man, plots were contrived for Mr. and Mrs. Charles, the witty detective couple. The screenwriters, Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett tried to kill the series with the first sequel, burdening the couple with a baby. They figured no one would want to watch Nick and Nora as parents, that the fun would be gone. They were vastly mistaken. After the third movie in the series, the writers left and a different writer was assigned to each movie that followed.

After the Thin Man (1936)
Director: W.S. “Woody” Van Dyke
Featuring: William Powell, Myrna Loy, James Stewart, Elissa Landi, Penny Singleton, Joseph Calleia

Plot in a nutshell:
from Doctor Macro

When Nick and Nora Charles return home from their stressful vacation, they find that their New Year’s Eve won’t be nearly as peaceful as they’d hoped. When Nora’s cousin, Selma (Landi) is accused of murdering her philandering husband, the couple are on the case, attempting to clear her name.


- Though William Powell and Myrna Loy were very close friends off-screen, their only romantic moments together occurred on-screen. The public, however, was determined to have them married in private life as well. When the two stars showed up in San Francisco (where most of this film was shot) at the St. Francis, the hotel management proudly showed "Mr. and Mrs. Powell" to their deluxe suite. This was an especially uncomfortable moment as Jean Harlow, who was engaged to Powell, was with them, and the couple had not made a public statement about their relationship. Harlow saved the day by insisting on sharing the suite with Loy: "That mix-up brought me one of my most cherished friendships," Loy said in "Being and Becoming", her autobiography. "You would have thought Jean and I were in boarding school we had so much fun. We'd stay up half the night talking and sipping gin, sometimes laughing, sometimes discussing more serious things." Meanwhile, Powell got the hotel's one remaining room - a far humbler accommodation downstairs. (from IMDb)
- The nightclub featured in the film was loosely modeled on the famous Forbidden City, a popular San Francisco night spot from the late 1930s through the 1950s. (from IMDb)
- Although this sequel cost twice as much as The Thin Man (1934), it was still MGM's 5th biggest grossing film of the year, earning $3.1 million on a $673,000 investment. (from IMDb)
-  There's a wonderful book on the Thin Man series by Charles Tranberg called The Thin Man: Murder Over Cocktails and he gives some fascinating tidbits about the film as well. For instance, the screenwriters, Frances and Albert Hackett really wanted to kill the series with film #2. They even wanted to go so far as to kill Nick and Nora but the producer wouldn't let them. Instead, they saddled the couple with a baby, hoping the movie-going public would lose interest if Mr. and Mrs. Charles became too domestic.

Thoughts on the movie:

from Doctor Macro

This is honestly one of my favorites in the Thin Man series. I love Nick and Nora’s banter in this one and having Jimmy Stewart in it is a real treat. Selma is a bit ridiculous but that’s part of the fun of the film, really (in my opinion). Nick and Nora constantly seem to find themselves among crazy, absurd, over-the-top characters throughout the series. It makes it kind of enjoyable to notice that they’re about the only normal ones in there. There’s usually a handful of more normal characters in the film (James Stewart, for instance, in this one). It’s a good time.

Favorite scenes:

This has been a favorite of mine for a long time so, naturally, I have a ton of favorite scenes. But one of my absolute favorite scenes ever is the one where Nora wakes up and starts asking about scrambled eggs. It’s a perfect example of the clever banter that made the couple so popular. I also really like the New Year’s Eve scene at the Chinese restaurant. Oh and the surprise party. And also the part where-- well, basically you should just watch the movie. It’s fantastic.